[St. Pachomius Library]

The Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

In the XVI and XVII Centuries, the Society of Jesus promoted Uniatism throughout the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe; the bitter fruits of the seeds then planted are still being harvested today. When the Jesuits were suppressed by the Pope in 1773, Catherine the Great allowed the Society to maintain its corporate existence in Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, presumably as a bargaining chip in dealings with the West. The emperor Paul continued this policy; it is conceivable he intended to take over the Society and make it into part of the Orthodox Church in the same way that he tried to take over the Knights of Malta. However in 1820, the Jesuits were expelled by from the Empire by Alexander. Anti-Jesuit writings of Western origin found a natural readership in the Orthodox East, and the sinister figure of the Jesuit appears many times in Orthodox and Eastern European literature, for example in the novels of Dostoyevsky. Often "Jesuit" was used as a generic term for "Roman Catholic religious", as in the story of the martyrdom of St. Peter the Aleut.

Jesuit missionary activity also had an impact on Eastern Christians elsewhere, especially on the St. Thomas Christians of India and on the Ethiopians.

In spite of the predominantly negative character of Jesuit-Orthodox interactions, it is worth noting that in several respects the Society's traditions actually resemble Orthodoxy more than do those of many Roman Catholic organisations. This applies especially to the controversy between the Jesuits and the Jansenists: although Pascal is the source of much anti-Jesuit material quoted or recycled by Orthodox writers, it was the Jesuits he accused of semi-Pelagianism and anti-Augustinianism who were closer to the Fathers on the main theological issue of the day. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain apparently saw things to admire in Jesuitism; he not only translated Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat, but also the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius himself. At least in the case of Scupoli (I have never seen a copy of his edition of Loyola), St. Nicodemus made extensive Orthodox additions and revisions while retaining the core of the Jesuit text.

Norman Hugh Redington


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